Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 119 / Number 1
Bacon's Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia
- By Brent Tarter, pp. 2 –41
"Bacon's Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia" is a reexamination of Bacon's Rebellion of 1676. It is the first account to make full use of the original manuscripts, called county grievances, that the royal commissioners whom King Charles II sent to Virginia to investigate the causes of the rebellion obtained from residents of Virginia's counties. Other complaints from individual Virginians focused attention on the manner in which the royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, treated the rebels after the collapse of the rebellion and led contemporary observers and later historians to interpret the rebellion as a revolt against Berkeley or against royal government. The contents of the neglected county grievances clearly show that many Virginians had long-standing complaints against the justices of the peace who ran the counties, set local tax rates, and appeared to favor the privileged owners of land at the expense of poorer men. The language in the county grievances exhibits a class consciousness and relates some pre-rebellion events not otherwise documented that together allow for a reinterpretation of the causes and events of the rebellion. In turn, that reinterpretation allows for a reevaluation of the political institutions and culture of seventeenth-century Virginia.